Even before the results of the Kansas Republican gubernatorial primary have been written in ink—and indeed, even before ballots were cast earlier this month—pressure is rising on independent candidate Greg Orman to drop out of the race, lest the Kansan version of President Trump, Republican Kris Kobach, take the keys to the governor’s mansion in November.
Kobach, MAGA’s Midwestern face is, at this writing a mere 300 votes ahead of his nearest (and more establishment) GOP rival, who conceded defeat Tuesday evening despite an infinitesimally small margin separating him from Kobach. While his approval rating in Kansas trails that of Trump, Kobach has followed (and in some cases led) the president’s stances on illegal immigration. He came to national prominence by asserting that there were millions of fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 presidential election (without which, assumably, Trump would have won the popular vote). Should a recount take place, Kobach, as Kansas’ secretary of state, after initially denying he’d step aside, has announced that he would indeed recuse himself.
For NeverTrumpers, taking down Kobach is perhaps priority number one, and a three-way race in November may propel Kobach to victory. Democrats have been united in their calls, catcalls, and whispers for Orman to drop out. Beating Trump’s man in Kansas is more important than anything—except shedding partisan loyalty.
Polling shows that the winner of the Aug. 7 Democratic primary, Laura Kelly, would finish a contest with Kobach in a dead heat. That same data show that Orman would beat Kobach by a mile—a nearly 13 percentage-point lead, despite strong Republican registration in the state. The best way to block Kobach’s path to power is to back Orman.
If Democrats want to beat Kobach so badly—or Trump in 2020, for that matter—doesn’t it make the most sense to back the most electable candidate rather than hew to a party line?
Orman is a successful business person. He was close to beating Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014 before national Republicans came to the rescue, to the tune of millions of dollars in negative advertising. In a two-way race, there is a much better chance that Orman could fashion a winning coalition of independents, disaffected Republicans and Democrats looking for any option other than Kobach. And yet Democratic Party loyalists will bellow across the prairies that a vote for Orman is a vote for Kobach.
Why does Kelly have only a tossup chance, head-to-head, against Kobach? Because although there are many Republicans who don’t care for Kobach, they’re not going to pull the lever for a Democrat. Orman, on the other hand, provides them a credible option that doesn’t ask them to violate their personal politics.
The two parties are totally united in their determination to maintain their hold on power, limit political competition, and advance their own interests at the expense of the American people. Ideology, the good of the state and the opportunity for good governance take a backseat to those self-interested goals. Coin-toss chances with a Democratic candidate, or solid assurance of beating Kobach on an independent ticket? The party prefers to take a chance on heads-or-tails.
Independent candidates are often portrayed by both parties as “spoilers,” the assumption being that the race belongs to the two major parties. In this view, the most an independent candidate can hope for—or so the common wisdom goes—is to tip the scales for one of them, inevitably the wrong one. Limiting political competition in order to assure the electoral victor is the “lesser of two evils” only serves to assure that our options at the ballot box are always just that: two evils.
Voters in Kansas, and in all 50 states—deserve better.
The 2020 presidential contest is likely to feature an incumbent President Trump facing off against a lackluster or extreme-left candidate from the Democratic Party. The best hope for America may be for an independent candidate to step forward who represents the mainstream majority of American voters. Only the two parties benefit from convincing Americans that an independent candidate has no chance; it is in their mutual interest to do so.
Immediately after Election Day in November, two dozen or so Democratic presidential hopefuls will begin their quadrennial odyssey around the country. Sometime next summer, they will face one another on the debate stage. As the field narrows, it is likely to show us what wing of the Democratic Party the eventual nominee represents. It is very likely that the winner will be an individual no more capable of defeating Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton was.
When and if a credible independent jumps into the race, national Democrats will label the independent an “interloper” and howl that he or she will do nothing more than give us four more years of Trump. This may be true — in a world before 2016. Given how divided we are politically and how little the two parties now even attempt to sway the 40 percent of voters who refuse to affiliate with them, it is entirely possible that an independent option would do well. This is not a 50-50 proposition. It’s a 34 percent solution in 50 three-way state races.
While the final result of the race between Kris Kobach and Gov. Jeff Colyer will show a razor-thin margin, the race itself and its outcome give us a good view of what 2020 may look like should a new, independent candidate jump into the race. The changes in today’s politics are myriad and manifold. Long-held definitions are shifting; among them will be a recasting of what “spoiler” really means, and to whom it refers. Republicans and Democrats have spoiled the system for decades — it’s time for new voices to make themselves heard.